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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were first conceived and developed during World War I. But advances in technology starting in the 1960s led to modern military UAVs such as the Predator, Reaper, and Global Hawk. UAVs are typically used in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance/target acquisition (ISR/TA) operations. Starting in the 1990s UAVs took on a broader role that includes armed reconnaissance. UAVs now form an important part of the military arsenal and are deployed worldwide in a variety of roles.

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flies over a range in Nevada, 6 Sep 2007.  The UAV is assigned to the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron, 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing out of Creech Air Force Base, NV
MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flies over a range in Nevada, 6 Sep 2007. The UAV is assigned to the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron, 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing out of Creech Air Force Base, NV.

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Operational Factors of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

UAVs are remotely piloted semi-autonomous vehicles also known as drones, robot planes, or pilotless aircraft. Although some UAVs are capable of autonomous flight, particularly when moving from predesignated waypoints as a part of a mission, they are monitored and operated by a ground crew that form part of a UAV system.

The U.S. Department of Defense defines a UAV as a powered aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces for lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, is expendable or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload. The DoD designates UAVs using a "Q" to indicate a remotely piloted vehicle, with a leading "R" for reconnaissance or "M" for multi-mission, including combat operations.

A UAV may operate as a single vehicle using its onboard surveillance sensors or as a part of a UAV system that may include multiple airborne vehicles (up to six in 2010), plus a ground control station (GCS) and support equipment. The ground control station is often thousands of miles from where the UAV operates, the two connected by satellite communications. But some short-range UAVs use line-of-sight wireless communications.

UAVs undertake missions that once were the domain of piloted aircraft. However, the military still emphasizes the role of piloted aircraft, often reserving its UAVs for "3-D" missions, ones that are dull, dirty, or dangerous.

Early U.S. UAVs include the Pioneer, which was used for gathering tactical intelligence by the U.S. Navy during Operation Desert Storm to acquire Iraqi targets for 16-in. naval guns. The Predator first appeared in the Balkans conflict, and was the first UAV to add strike missions to its repertoire, firing Hellfire missiles at Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and Yemen. The Predator also became the first UAV to engage in aerial combat when it fired a Stinger air-to-air missile at an Iraqi MiG in March 2003. The Predator was then shot down.

The U.S. military envisions an expanding role for UAVs as a part of netcentric warfare that minimizes risk to soldiers, particularly in complex or inaccessible environments such as an urban setting or remote mountainous region.

Chart of Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

In this chart of U.S. military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), click on the photo link to go to the page of photos and information for the specific plane.

Aircraft Description Photo Link
BMQ-34 Ryan Northrop Grumman BMQ-34 Firebee Ryan Northrop Grumman BMQ-34 Firebee
FQM-151 AeroVironment FQM-151 Pointer AeroVironment FQM-151 Pointer
MQ-1 General Atomics MQ-1 Predator General Atomics MQ-1 Predator
MQ-8 Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout
MQ-9 General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper
RQ-2 AAI RQ-2 Pioneer AAI RQ-2 Pioneer
RQ-4 Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk
RQ-5 Northrop Grumman RQ-5 Hunter Northrop Grumman RQ-5 Hunter
RQ-7 AAI RQ-7 Shadow AAI RQ-7 Shadow
RQ-11 AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven
RQ-14 AeroVironment RQ-14 Dragon Eye AeroVironment RQ-14 Dragon Eye
RQ-16 Honeywell RQ-16 T-Hawk Honeywell RQ-16 T-Hawk
RQ-170 Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel
ScanEagle Boeing ScanEagle Boeing ScanEagle

Recommended Books about Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

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